Miscellaneous Watercolor Paper Reviews

While working on my projects of reviewing all the colors in the Jackson’s and St Cuthbert samplers, I also occasionally used other paper. Here are some loose reviews of random other papers I’ve tried in the past year, not in the context of a sampler or set.

Fluid Easy Block

These are about the cheapest watercolor blocks I could find, and they were the paper I started out with. I found that they buckled a lot, and I was happy to move to nicer paper for watercolor, especially when doing paintings with a lot of heavy washes. However, I used them again for gouache, and found them a lot more acceptable for that less wet medium.

Fluid 100 – 300lb/640 gsm Cold Press

The next step up from Fluid Easy-Block is Fluid 100, the brand’s 100% cotton variety. I got this as an inexpensive way to try 300lb paper. 

Like other 300lb papers, it’s nice and thick, doesn’t tend to warp, and keeps wet long enough to work wet-in-wet. I got some nice color-mix effects on this paper, though I found that generally, the colors dried pale and not very vibrant. There’s also an odd softness to this paper; if you draw on it with a pencil, it’s hard to keep from embossing the paper. 

The glue on the block is so firm that it’s very difficult to remove the paper from the block without ripping it. I ruined multiple paintings this way and learned to photograph them before trying to take them off the block. Even using a credit card, I tended to create little rips and folds along the edges. 

Kilimanjaro – Cold Press, 300lb/640gsm

Kilimanjaro is the Cheap Joe’s house brand, a relatively inexpensive paper with great stats: 100% cotton, 300lb/640 gsm paper. Like others of this weight I’ve tried, it’s nice and heavy, with the thickness of cardstock – takes pretty much infinite wash without curling. Pros of this paper were that it was a relatively inexpensive way to get nice thick paper, and I didn’t feel like I needed to be too “precious” about what I painted on it. 

Cons were mainly intangibles. The paper has a soft feel (it is easily embossed by pencil). It is a thirsty paper, and I found that I frequently got unexpected drybrush effects (which I sort of like in some paintings; for example, it looked like snow on the mountains.) I found it difficult to get wash effects that I enjoyed. For example, in the comparison below, I attempted the same sunset in an Etchr Perfect Sketchbook (top) and Kiliamanjaro paper (bottom). 

WIP sunsets on Etchr Perfect Sketchbook (top) vs Kilimanjaro 300lb CP (bottom).

I did just about the same maneuvers in the sky for both sunsets, but to me personally, the  way the paint settled and dried in Etchr looks far more delicate and lovely, while the way the paint settled in the Kilimanjaro just looks awkward. I don’t know how to explain it. 

This is a fine paper for many types of applications, and I’m especially happy with how some of my non-sky-heavy paintings came out (e.g. the Isle Royale island in the mist). But it’s a bit frustrating to use for gestural wet-on-wet skies, which is my favorite thing to paint!

L’Aquarelle Canson Héritage – Rough Press, 300lb/640gsm

Birches from Kolbie Blume’s “Wilderness Watercolor Landscapes.” April 4, 2022.

I got this as a small sample, but I paint small anyway so it worked for me! On the stiff side even for 300lb, with a nice texture for making even gradients. The best part is I didn’t have to think about anything except the painting because the paper was just perfectly behaved. The tape came off perfectly. 

Lanaquarelle – 140lb/300gsm Cold Press

Lanaquarelle stays wet for a long time, which suits sky paintings well, especially in dry weather. At first I wasn’t always pleased with the soft edges that I got when I tried to paint an entire painting in one go, but if I had the patience to wait for layers, I got an unparalleled experience. In the end I. think this is one of my favorite papers – too bad it’s also one of the most expensive!

Nujabi Cold Press 200lb Soft Cold Press

This appears to be a Jerry’s Artarama house brand. A bit heavier than a typical paper, this is very rough and handmade-looking, with deckled edges (and it comes precut in 5×7 pieces, which is convenient!) Although this is called “cold press,” it has a level of texture I’d call rough; the grain of the paper can make even smooth paints appear to be granulating! It was difficult to remove the tape, and I found that even my Holbein Soft Tape stuck to the rough edges of the paper and damaged it when removing.

Bee Paper Rag 140lb Cold Press

Olympic National Park, on Bee Paper. July 23, 2023.

This is kind of the opposite of Nujabi paper in that it is smooth and not textured. I found it difficult to get nice soft edges and watercolor effects. For example, a line of wet to create fog came out very harsh-edged. Not my favorite for watercolor, though it works for gouache.

Pinnacles National Park in gouache, on Bee Paper. August 18, 2023.

Conclusion

I’m really glad that I took notes on at least some of the times I used these papers or I’d have forgotten which painting was on which paper, what my impressions were and other intangibles. As I shop for paper, it’s useful to know that I wasn’t really impressed with any of these – with the exception of Canson Heritage, which is probably the most expensive out of all of them. Ah, well! Guess I’m a little fancy boy with expensive tastes.